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Microbe Man and the War of Cultures

by Brian J. Ford

Transcript of an Extemporized Lecture to 'Mensa at Cambridge', Magdalene College, Cambridge, July 1992

Victor Serebriakoff: Now I introduce a very old friend. He is also a club-mate - at the Savage Club - for we must have known each other since the 'sixties. He is B.J., or Beej; Brian J Ford. Brian is a true scientist. He has not wasted his time collecting pieces of paper as tokens of qualification in a narrow speciality, but has concentrated on doing a lot of real science. As you all know, he publishes in science, and writes on many other things. He is a true 'renaissance man' who has advanced our understanding of an enormous lot of subjects. The only man I could compare him with would be our late friend Isaac Asimov, for he is able to throw light on any subject, and at any time. That's Brian. No doubt be will wear out the covering on the podium here, for he moves about a lot when he talks, so with great pleasure I introduce - Brian J. Ford.

Brian J Ford: The 'great debates' are the subject for this meeting. Yet one of the greatest topics for debate has not been broached. Where does internecine societal strife come from? People seem to take a perverse delight in attacking each other and we do seem to accept that tribal conflict and inter-cultural strife are normal. But the explanations that have been laid down to explain why people do these things to each other do not always apply. The military theorists will speak of territorial aggrandisement or economic advantage. But the most cruel warfare is not where there is necessarily any territorial advantage. To cite just one example, the bombing of the cemetery in Sarajevo, is a real acts of warfare. This is the machination of instinctual hatred of one culture of people for another. There are many areas in which rejection of this sort - the animus of hatred - exists within communities of living organisms. What I wish to do today is to attempt a synthesis of some ideas on which I have been working, and which now begin to offer an interesting new concept.


Evolutionary theory is one area in which strong forces of what you might call "selection against", rather that "selection for", seem to operate. Although Darwin has been internationally heralded as the progenitor of the new view on the origin of species, his work actually said very little about the origin of species at all. His work was concerned with the pressures that maintain species diversity, but speciation is the moment at which the dichotomy between one species, and two subsequent species, becomes manifest.

Suppose for example that you were to take a group, a community, a field of medium-tailed shrews. Were you to leave them in the field and come back in a million years' time, it is quite possible that, by then, you would have two discrete species: a short-tailed shrew, and a long-tailed shrew. The mathematical analogy, the model, that has been constructed in order to show how speciation has occurred,

has a kind of three-dimensional groove, a divided, Y-shaped groove, down which marbles are run - conceptual marbles. Some go to the left, and some to the right. Now that is retrospective modelling of what goes on when one species becomes two. But what lives with me is the fact that - as the marble is running down the groove - the groove, and the divided groove that lies in front of the marble, do not yet exist. It is the marble itself that is, as it were, the cursor marking the rate at which evolution takes place. So why, when the marble actually comes down to what we now diagnose as a dichotomy, why would the marble start going towards the left or the right? Once the groove is built it is easy to see how the marbles behave. But the marble becomes its own groove-generating process. It is at the forefront of evolution. It can have no sense of knowing where it is going.

Now, to come to the shrews as a convenient model, let us examine what this means. It is quite easy to assume that long tailed shrews - that is to say, members of the medium-tailed shrew species, but with slightly longer-than-average-tails - might in fact tend to breed more at one end of the field, with the shorter-tailed individuals breeding at the other. This is what Darwin taught: geographical separation was the main distinguishing factor which led to speciation. If you kept species apart, then the individuals unable to adapt to disparate environmental experiences, would die down whilst the others increased ... so that at the end of the day, in these two geographically discrete regions, you would have two separate species. In fact geographical separation rarely accounts for this phenomenon. Many species (butterflies are a prime example) have evolved in diverse directions whilst co-existing. We accept that we evolved from forms of life on a level with worms, and if that idea were to make any sense at all it would follow that all the earthworms would have long since become extinct. They would have been the "unfitted" eliminated as evolution progressed inexorably upwards. What is so interesting about biological diversity is that the earthworms are here, just as much as we are, and they feel no great compunction to evolve any further. Geographical separation has been no part of the explanation for their evolution.

There is the argument of the ecological niche. Consider the one which the earthworm occupies, for this would account for their persistence. If the niche is comfortable, there is no great reason to assume that earthworms should ever have evolved any further. So we now have to address why it is that a given community of organisms (like our medium-tailed shrews), would ever become two species. You might deduce, "Well, the shrews with slightly longer tails interbreed, and so do the ones with slightly shorter tails, and so at the end of a million years we have two species." Fine - but you have then to bring in a new concept: not merely that the longer-tailed shrews are breeding with each other, but that these longer-tailed shrews don't like breeding with the shorter-tailed shrews. It is not merely a question of organisms wishing to inter-breed in groups, but not wishing to inter-breed with other groups. There is a principle in evolution of the rejection of the dissimilar by higher organisms. Now, what it might be we need to debate. And why it might be we need to discuss.


Let us look at mating rituals in birds, for example. If mating rituals did not exist, it could be said, nobody would ever have perceived a need to assume that they should need to be invented. According to my view they have to exist; because a mating ritual (we indulge in mating rituals ourselves just as much as the birds do) is not merely a means of choosing a mate. The choice, by positive selection, of a mate, can only come about when a would-be suitor has rejected the other available mates. If one female bird is offered nine suitors, it is not enough to say that they all displayed until she found one that proved to be acceptable. That would only work if a male bird were to come along, display, and then - if nothing happened - depart. But in fact the female must signal to the bird that she does not want this particular male. So here again we have the concept of the rejection of the unfit, rather than merely non-selecting what is fitting.

In our daily lives as humans we recognise dissimilar groups. They are coded by dress, behaviour, by speech and pet phrases. There are few right-wing skinheads bent on racial harmony, just as Conservatives who wear open-toed sandals and Oxfam sweaters are rare. Our tendency to bunch people together into groups, into gangs, or into tribes, is the puzzle; is in my view not so much the effect of a badge of affinity, but more a badge of rejection. The clothing that is chosen, and the words that are used, are not merely there in order to attract similar people: they are there to repel dissimilar individuals. And a phrase, uttered sotto voce through expired breath - "women drivers!", "skin-heads!", "students!" ... "Mensans!" - is always a term of derision, and never one of acclamation. Primitive tribes waged wars between groups who, to us as outsiders, would have seemed quite similar. They did not merely wage war in the sense of wanting to capture their land, for they usually took trophies and then went back home when they had finished. And the purpose of the conquering was not merely to conquer land, but to subjugate people, to rape, to disfigure, to mutilate, to cannibalise and to take home the liver or the scalp.

It was Konrad Lorenz who coined the concept of mankind as a murdering ape. He studied the way in which geese could be induced to follow him around. Newly-hatched geese tend to identify the visual appearance of whatever figure they see shortly after they have hatched. There is a critical phase for this imprinting phenomenon, as we now call it, and during that time the gosling has mechanisms for the identification of "mother", ready to be wired or programmed. This is true of other species apart from geese - it is the reason why, when Mary had a little lamb, it followed her to school. We must examine the nature of this learning, at its instinctual level, and pose the idea of genetic potentiality which remains potential until the experiential programming of that potential is realised.


Some work just published in Ohio has shown how honey-bees can shown an extraordinary affinity for their siblings. If you mix up a number of worker bees from different communities, bee communities in different hives, they very soon sort themselves out into sibs. A person used to typing insects by sequencing their genes would find that level of distinction very difficult to undertake. Yet the bees manage it perfectly well. They do not select their own kind merely by positive taxis, by homing in on their kin, for that must be a secondary effect. What must come first is the rejection, or the recognising of non-kin, of the earlier workers that a particular bee has come across. A bee only remains available for the partner it is eventually going to choose, or the group it is eventually going to join, by cognitively rejecting the alien bees that it meets earlier. Here is another example of the innate propensities for rejection that exist.

Some other work has recently been published, in the late nineteen eighties, on Indonesian leaf-hoppers. In the hand, under the lens, these two species are morphologically identical. It is impossible to tell them apart. Using scanning electronmicrographs, if you look very closely, you might possibly tell one species from the other. But even to the gifted and experienced human observer, distinguishing these two species is pretty well impossible. They often exist in different regions of Indonesia, and when Darwin wrote of such phenomena he concluded that the reason such species did not interbreed is because they were distinct, and because their territory hardly ever overlapped. But since the evolution of agriculture has brought about high-density farming in Indonesia, the geographical zones in which these two species exist now overlap. The two species of morphologically identical leaf-hoppers co-exist in the same vegetation in Indonesia. But they don't interbreed. The reason you can tell that they don't interbreed in nature is quite simple. If you take them, and confine them in little jars in the laboratory, then - probably out of boredom and a lack of crosswords - they will subsequently interbreed: not often, but they do. The question then arises - how do we tell them apart, and how can we tell that they are different species?

It is because of their mating calls. If you actually obtain a voice-print of the mating call of these leaf-hoppers, then one species has its vocal activity at one end of the scale, and the other has its vocalisation at the other. And they stridulate on blades of grass at different frequencies and with a different timing in order to distinguish one from another. It is leaf-hoppers elsewhere down the blade of grass, who feel this vibration transmitted along the blade, who recognise whether this is another of their own species. If the alien sound signal is transmitted down the blade, then they realise that this is the other species, and they show no interest. In the laboratory you can encourage them to inter-breed in close confinement and - fortunately enough - the hybrids have their voice spectrum in between the others. It lies in the centre of the graph. So, by collecting hoppers in the wild and putting them into a small sound-measuring chamber, it is very easy to distinguish between species A, species B, and a hybrid. The hybrids have never been found in nature. Here too we must have an example of my postulated mechanism for rejection. The leaf-hopper is sitting on its leaf, longing for a mate, when the wrong message comes down that blade of grass. So, even in these ready-to-mate communities, there are clear rejection propensities at work.


There is much importance in the study of learned responses, coded as criteria of selection mechanisms. Those of you with an interminably gifted memory may recall that in 1969 I spoke to Mensa in London in the Annual Lecture on the concept of 'criteria of selection'. These criteria, which enable us to code for things we want, must also (and more importantly) code for things we wish to reject. A paper in Nature, for example, has discussed the phenomenon of spur length in pheasants. In this case it is clear that spur length in the male pheasant is plainly the signal that is recognised by the female of the species as an indication of whether she wishes to mate - or, more importantly, whether she wishes not to mate, with a specific male pheasant. The critical response to this paper argued, firstly, that the standard interpretation of Darwinian selection predicts that attractive sexual characteristics which enhance mating success should effect male survival; and second, that if spurs are so beneficial to male pheasants, then why are they not rapidly increasing in length in the males of that species - or, I might add, the males of all other species, too? Why is this decoration lacking in females? It was argued that there was no additive genetic variance for long spurs. But a simpler and more novel explanation was offered in this paper. It was that spur length is a condition-dependent characteristic. In other words, the young female pheasants have to be trained to recognise the target for an inbuilt proclivity. This, it was concluded, was why the females were selecting for long spurs.

These examples exactly fit the predictions of the general theory I am advancing today. It is that selection is taking place by the rejection of the 'un-approved of' partner. It is always important to remember that a female does not merely positively select a viable mate, but must embody innate mechanisms to reject the unwanted meanwhile. "Selection for" can only exist in a multiple-choice situation, where possible male partners are arranged around the selecting female in a semi-circle, so that she could walk across to whichever one she wished. In fact the separation of experiences is chronological and she must know that in declining to pair off with the first few males that come along, she is saving herself for one that she is going to positively identify as a viable mate. In the past we have homed in on that second phenomenon, but the positive response can only exist if innate qualities of rejection have applied earlier on in that process.


Let us look for a moment at the conditioned reflex, like the blink when a blow is aimed at your eye. It is a response to a stimulus, selected by inborn criteria and designed to protect the individual. Now, such a property is explained by evolutionary theory, and it involves an inborn reflex. Reflexes have physiological roots, which might well be a response to a change in circumstances - the "fright and flight" response, involving the raising of pulse-rate, and hence of circulation, during effort, which is similarly an unconsciously regulated response. But there are other codes which we learn to associate with circumstance, and these Pavlov christened the 'conditioned reflex'. They exist as circuitry waiting to be experientially wired, if you like. An integrated programme of research into this area really does need to be carried out. There is always the possibility for re-wiring, for modifying the wiring. For example, dogs can be taught to associate the ringing of a bell with food. Then - if the bell is rung and no food is presented - the dog will salivate anyway. That's fine: it is an experiment which we were told about in school. But what interested me when I was presented with this in school was this. Suppose it is a different bell? Or what if it is a recording of the same bell, but the frequency is raised - the tape speed is slightly increased? Or suppose it is a single 'ding' instead of an electrical r-r-r-ring? Suppose just one strike of the same bell was heard? How far can one depart from the conditioned stimulus and still maintain the response? As far as I am aware, no research has been done into that. But I always found that fascinating.

We make general distinctions all the time, and rarely consider the basis for a judgement. In our own experience, people may say, "Oh, I hate ham," for example. But, although it is also pink, they may like corned beef; or tongue, although it is similar in texture; they might like pork, which really is ham (but without the nitrite preservative) and so, though it is a different colour it remains the same meat. In other words, it is not good enough to say that the dogs salivated when the bell was rung. How far would you have to go from that stimulus to find that the wiring still triggered the salivation response? This is a large field replete with ignorance, and rich in areas that require investigation. It could show that a conditioned reflex might not truly be a 'reflex' at all, but a learned response. It suggests that learned responses to situations might be un-learnable, or even re-learned. And if that is possible, it might be that instinctual rejection - like arachnophobia or whatever else one chooses - could be subtly re-programmed, and rather than acquainting people with spiders until they start to like them, it might be better to modify the picture slightly, until you arrived at something like a giant ant which - although morphologically similar - didn't cause the phobic rejection. I think that by mapping out how far we can go from the stimulus that causes rejection, to something similar but different, we can probe a new area of human psychology.


The world of microbial recognition is a fascinating field. We now know a vast amount about how a single cell operates. We understand the biochemistry of a single cell. We even understand the wonderful universal-joint mechanism at the base of a beating flagellum which some of the non-biological delegates in this room have discussed with me. Yet for all this, we know next to nothing about how two cells function. Understanding the mechanics of a single cell is actually comparatively easy. As in the model of the blind watch-maker, it is a case of inspecting the gear-wheels. It is like looking at transistors. But the important thing, of course, is how two cells function together. I would like here to remind you of a prediction I made, at Mensa at Cambridge in 1986. It concerned my belief that the notion of a neuron as a go or no-go device didn't hold water. Protozoa can make selective decisions about where they are going to go, whom they are going to mate with, what they are going to eat, which direction they are going to take. I do not believe that a highly specialised cell like a human brain cell, a human neuron, merely switches 'on' or 'off'. I study recordings of the sequential code of impulses that are sent out by neurons at 40 Hertz and I sometimes wonder how intriguing it might be to play them back at a different speed, or modulated in a different way, because this is a language. This is not neurons signalling they are 'on' or 'off'. They are no binary switches. This is neurons signalling thoughts, ideas, and output to each other; this truly is the language of the mind. Each brain cell is no transistor or gate: it is, in my view, an entire computer.

I sometimes wonder about those recordings of the staccato utterances of marine mammals. I have speculated how it would sound to take those and play them back at a speed that was increased by a factor relating the body size of whales to the mass of man. By then they might form themselves into words of 'whale-ese' that we could then gradually come to understand. The pitch of utterances by animals is more or less, in general terms, proportional to their size. Just as we slow down bat utterances in order to hear them with human ears, we might speed up 'whale-ese' until those staccato sounds became phonemes and words that we and other whales might recognise. If we learnt to speak it we could be taught the language ourselves, slow it down sixty-four times, radiate it out across the oceans, and communicate with our mammalian cousins. However, that is not something I'm talking about this morning.


If you look at single-celled microorganisms you can see them perform all sorts of unexpected tasks. A single swimming cell can suddenly stop swimming and go hunting in search of a mate. Let me show you some examples. These are drawings I've made to show the appearance of microscopic organisms, and I would like to direct your attention to the complexity within these little creatures. Vorticella, for example, mates; there is mating going on down here in the drawing. This organism is probably the most important single microbe that effects human beings. Has anybody in this room ever seen a vorticellid organism? Does anybody recognise what the organism might be? We owe our lives to Vorticella. This organism is a single-celled protozoan animal, and each cell would be less than a tenth of a millimetre across. As you can see, it has a bell-shaped body on a spiral stalk. This stalk can suddenly contract, and then it slowly unravels itself in a different orientation. It does that firstly when it has exhausted all the food in that particular compartment of water - it jerks in, and then comes out in a different direction - and the response is also used to escape from danger. If some blundering water-flea comes by the stalk also jerks back in, and the water-flea, with any luck, is denied its meal. Vorticella has a ring of cilia around the mouth of the bell, and these circulate a current of water into the mouth of the cell and out again. Any unwanted particles (small sand-grains or dust particles) are ignored by the cell; but anything alive, like a bacterium, is taken in by Vorticella and consumed. It passes down the gullet, and into the cytoplasm. Any residues are ejected when digestion is complete.

Vorticella is the organism that gives us pure water. If you look at a mountain stream you can see how the water runs down through masses of peat and gravel. There may be a dead cow around the corner, whilst down at your camp-site (which you selected as suitable before you knew there was a dead animal upstream in the water) the stream is pure, and clear, and wholesome. Take some of the rocks from the bottom of the stream, over which the water has been trickling, and you will find them covered with vorticellid colonies; and they are consuming the bacteria in that water as it flows down. Much of our water is purified by passage through slow sand filter bends, and you will know, won't you, that the sand filters out the unwanted components of the water. But - as any Mensan could tell a water technologist - that must be wrong. The interstices between sand grains are large fractions of a millimetre, perhaps hundreds of microns, across. Bacteria are a hundred times smaller than the gaps between sand-grains. So sand cannot possibly act as a mere mechanical filter. In fact, the water that passes through a slow sand filter is not passed into the mains until the filter has begun to develop what, I believe, the Germans call a Schmutzdecke, a slime layer, in the top foot (the first thirty centimetres or so) of the filter-bed, a process of maturation that takes several days. This layer is believed to be the slime, the germs, and the rubbish in the water that the sand held back. But when I look at that under the microscope I find extensive colonies of the vorticellids, and the slime is in fact these protozoan organisms which colonise the sand. Then, when the microbes and germs come down through the filter, these single-celled organisms pick out the cells and the water emerges from the bottom biologically purified.

Here is another protozoan, Loxophyllum, and I have drawn it as it crosses a couple of algal filaments, for the visual effect and to emphasise the fact that it is flat and tenuous. It looks like a floating flame, less than a tenth of a millimetre from end to end. It too is covered by cilia. Loxophyllum is transparent; it is more than it is more than translucent. It is exceedingly thin, like nothing more than a piece of protoplasmic membrane. It shows food vacuoles, and a very complicated nuclear structure. Loxophyllum knows where it is going, and once in a while it will cease to feed and seek out another Loxophyllum. Then the two will come together on the oral side of the cells, joining together as a pair, and they will then fuse and exchange nuclei in an orgiastic microbial embrace. It is impossible that microbes do not enjoy sex. If they did not, then - like us - they wouldn't indulge. Consider: they are browsing around, feeding. They select what they wish to consume, and the more food they eat the faster they keep growing and reproducing. To stop feeding and search out a mate is an interruption of that vital process. So, at a cellular level, organisms like these ciliated protozoa must 'prefer' a little courtship to mere feeding - something which we find reflected, I think, in our own human behaviour.


These single-celled organisms embody many of the propensities that we might observe in ourselves. One single idea which I wish to introduce into your minds today is that we are behaviourally identical to the patterns of behaviour in the single cells of which we are composed. Because we are communities of single cells ourselves, I am positing this morning that humans - that multicellular animals - manifest the behaviour that is always found in the single cells which comprise our bodies. There is nothing inimitable in humans.

Look now at an extraordinary microorganism. It is Epidinium, an inhabitant of the rumen of cattle. It is an astonishingly complex microbe. The organism is but one, single cell. But if you look at it closely you might see that it seems to posses something that looks like a brain. It is called a 'motorium', and in electronmicrographs it shows itself to have something in common with neuronal organisation. The motorium has a small loop with encircles the mouth. There is a nucleus, in which the genetic material and the chromosomes reside, but there is also a meganucleus which does not take part in cell division, but in which a great deal of coding information is stored, including instructions on how the cell is to form and to react. It has an anal pore. And it even has a segmented structure containing food storage materials, glycogen and the rest, which to the educated eye might look just a little like a vertebral column. Yet though this is a single-celled organism, in the way that it has begun to sort out its structure it is beginning to look - very slightly - like a higher, multicellular form of life. I can imagine your thinking to yourselves, as soon as I put forward the view that humans cannot do anything a microbe does not do, "What about, say, ballooning? What about the Great Wall of China?" Floating through the air is little problem to a cell. The humble pollen-grain of the conifer Pinus has developed two buoyant sacs that transport them for many miles. Clouds of these pollen-grains can be seen as a fawn fog over the pine-woods in spring. And building with inert materials, building-blocks, is found in microbes too. The cell of Amoeba proteus may be familiar enough, but other amoebae encase themselves in stony armour. The common amoeba was known in the Victorian books as Chaos chaos, a wonderful name that is much more meaningful than Amoeba proteus!

An amoeba is a single-celled protozoon, and - as everybody knows - represent the simplest form of life known to science. It is also any shape you wish. All one needs to do is drawn a wavy line and add a dot for the nucleus ... yet none of this is true. Amoeba proteus is actually distinguishable from other amoebae because of something about the dimensions, the shape, the outline and orientation of the patterns of its pseudopodia. Its shape is actually perfectly distinctive. It also has a head and a tail, although you might not think so. Let an amoeba crawl along a groove in a glass plate, a cul-de-sac, and at the far end it will stop. Then, as you can see from the movement of the granules inside it, the cell turns round and comes out head first. You have been told how terribly simple it is. Simple? Why, an amoeba can do many of the things that humans can do, in terms of metabolism and activity, sensation and excretion, feeding and motility. All these various attributes that we have, an amoeba has too. But it can also carry out a number of actions which humans cannot do; such as exactly regulating its rate of reproduction to the available food supply, and building a protective capsule around itself, so that when the environment which it needs to sustain life disappears, the amoeba can survive until it returns. That is quite a neat trick if you can do it.

An amoeba does all this within a single cell. Envisaging the way in which humans move and walk isn't at all difficult. Two sticks of firewood and an elastic band are quite sufficient to explain to a child the workings of a mammalian limb. An amoeba does not dissolve away into the surrounding water, although it is composed of water-soluble constituents. And when it heads off in the right direction, it does so without any limbs, without any skeleton, and without the benefit of muscles. Do not believe that it is as simple as they say.

And is there a 'Great Wall of China' amoeba? Consider the testate amoebae, such as Difflugia. Here we have an amoeba with longer, narrower and less granular pseudopodia than is the case for A. proteus. It lives in pond water, and finds small sand-grains which it picks up and cements together to form a microscopic home. That is a considerable accomplishment for a shapeless protozoon. Humans discovered how to build with stones a few millenia ago, and we regard ourselves as advanced to have discovered the principles of cementing separate items together to make a protective wall.

Living in sea-water we find Tintinnopsis, another ciliated microorganism like those we have considered earlier. It uses its cilia to swim about - think of it as being a little like a bell-shaped Loxophyllum - but Tintinnopsis gathers fragments of rock, and tiny glassy particles of quartz, and cements those together to make a protective chamber that is shaped like a bell (hence the generic name of the organism). It emerges from its home, holding itself secure with fine, translucent, contractile fibrils. Then, when danger comes along it jerks back inside the refuge which it so perfectly fits. If you wish to see resonances between these single-celled forms of life and higher organisms, then whether it is tortoises or hermit crabs, you would not have to look very far.

Callidina is a multi-cellular organism, a rotifer. The rotifera are an intriguing group, for - like their cousins the nematode worms - they always possess the same number of cells in each organ of their bodies. If there are, say, 48 cells in the liver of one individual of a given species, then there will be 48 cells in the livers of all the other members of the same species. But a rotifer like this can be lassoed by another microbe. Predaceous fungi produce large loops of hyphae, and when something swims into the loop the entire structure contracts in an instant to seize hold of the organism, which then dies and decomposes so that it may be absorbed by the fungus. Here too at the microbe level we find extremely complicated mechanisms, which are redolent in many ways of the patterns of behaviour found in multi-cellular forms of life.


Let us relate this to the central theme of selecting and de-selecting. Let us consider an amoeba that you might find in woodland, and called Dictyostelium. Were you to find a single cell of this organism under a microscope whilst examining a specimen of woodland soil you might well conclude it was an ordinary amoeboid cell, and leave it at that. But Dictyostelium has several phases to a complex life-cycle. These little cells exist in woodland amongst humus and decaying leaves. When the time comes to reproduce sexually, somewhere in the centre of this great diverse community of separate and free-living cells - which have been reproducing by asexual binary fission, as amoebae always can - lies an individual which starts to send out a signal. A time-lapse film of a community of these cells under the microscope enables you to see the signal radiating outwards. Can you picture documentary film of bombs being dropped from an aircraft at war? You see radiating concentric shock-waves that spread out at speed from the point of impact. That is much the same as you see in these microscopic images - a wave spreads out from a cell somewhere in the group. It is sending out a signal. It is clearly an outwardly diffusing behaviourally active chemical, for what happens then is that all the cells in that particular community are drawn towards the common focus. As they crawl together they fuse to form a massive strand of cells which becomes drawn in towards the middle. When the organisms have congregated in together, the mass of cells forms a single body which - as the last few stragglers come in - rises up from the substrate. It is a small globule of life about the size of a match-head, and it starts to crawl around.

These single-celled organisms have now become a multi-cellular creature. If you found one under your microscope you would see it as a multi-cellular slug-like organism, and would never associate it with the free-living amoeboid cells you had earlier seen. Indeed I believe it is the case that in many of these slime-molds the fruiting stage was given one specific name, whilst the free-living separate cells were given another designation entirely. It was many decades before diligent study revealed that they were different stages of the same life-cycle. At the very end, the organisms change their behaviour once again, so that the rounded body begins to rear up into the air, forming a tower in which the amoeboid cells are climbing up over each other. At the very top they spread out to form a towering structure - a microscopic space-age spherical city - several millimetres above the floor of the wood, and after some complex reproductive processes that are not yet fully understood, cells within that globular wall form hardened cyst-walls, like those of spores. Then the sporangium breaks and the spores blow away to colonise new areas of the woodland on which they chance to land. Again, we see here a perfectly extraordinary life-cycle. But it illustrates how these amoebae do not make the mistake of ganging together with members of other strains or disparate species. They have the ability to reject all the other signals from microbes that abound in the woodland soil, and at the end of the day the cells with which they choose to team up are recognised as different, and desirable, out of all the others that they encounter.

I wish to refer to two other intriguing examples, in the first place Chondromyces. Just as the shell-building proclivity of protozoa is reminiscent of comparable patterns of behaviour in many other walks of life, so the coming together of separate cells to form a single body is found in other groups of microbes. Here we have a bacterial genus and, again in simplified terms, the separate Chondromyces organisms - at the detection of a sensory signal sent out by one of the cells in the community - they begin to migrate towards it to form a clump of cells. This unified body grows up above the surface of the substrate and produces sporangia at the ends of branches sent out from the central pillar, from which dry spores are released. Equally intriguing are the motile colonies of bacteria, which have been known about for many decades but about which little is yet known. A single rounded colony of these bacteria may contain billions of separate cells in the space occupied by a pin-head on the surface of an agar plate. The entire colony crawls. They are composed of separate bacteria, not aligned in any form of matrix, but growing together and moving together so that the entire colony has its own 'sense of direction'. Occasional organisms are left behind as the parent colony crawls across the plate, so you may see where it went as daughter-colonies start to form in the wake of the moving mass. The complete, match-head sized community of disparate organisms is moving on its own.


What we now have to do is relate the concept of the single cell to the concept of humans - to Mensans, if you like. We are only the expendable fruiting-bodies, for the true Homo sapiens is entirely immortal for it never dies. That of course is what we refer to as the germ line: the ovum and the spermatozoon. Let us consider the sperm, if only because the ovum is somewhat boring, doing nothing but sit there; whilst the sperm actually does things and is off exploring new areas of territory. I trust you are not going to start to see resonances here too. Let us ignore the ovum just for the moment, for it is a highly specialised, resting cell. If you were to isolate a single spermatozoon, living, on a microscope slide, and someone were to ask its identity of a microbiologist - who, on this one occasion, had never seen a sperm before - the microbiologist would say it was a flagellated microbe: a protozoon of some sort. You might persist and ask of what sort. And your microbiologist would tell you that there were thousands of them in pond-water, and it could be almost any one of countless groups. It is no more than a microbe with a flagellum, swimming about. Yet that is mankind.

It is the same with the ovum. The microbiologist confronted with this cell would conclude that it must be a resting stage of some sort because it was not actually doing anything. It has no cilia, it doesn't crawl, it just lies there rich in of food reserves. But it too could be a single-celled microbe, a protozoon. There is nothing about the appearance of these cells to suggest that the two might fuse - or (to tip the balance in favour of the female members of the audience) that this innocent globular cell might become infected by a swimming germ which comes along and causes the hapless ovum to enter a diseased phase known as embryological development.

Nobody would think that these single-celled creatures would fuse and give rise to people. The only reason they do give rise to people - to expendable people - is because we are no more than the fruiting-bodies on whom the survival of these simple protozoa depends. These organisms, swimming in their saline environment of ejaculate, are swimming around in water as they have always done. Indeed ejaculate, like tears, is slightly salty and that is because these life forms evolved in the sea. They always were used to living in the sea, and so they have developed a form of larger fruiting body that can generate and enclose a portion of sea in which they can survive.

If you fix on the spermatozoon, then that is Homo sapiens, swimming in the sea as it did as thousand million and more years ago. The moribund, dying and senescent fruiting-bodies - facing nothing but an unpleasant and possibly painful end - are the expendable husks which are supervened by the immortal sperm. That is the true nature of humankind.


Philosophers have found it exceedingly difficult to relate a zygote to an adult. Let us consider the ovum in this case. On the one hand, the egg-cell is simple and uncomplicated, for it is a single cell. Yet it contains all the genetic information needed to build Concordes and fly in them. How can the two - the single cell and the multicellular adult - be related? The philosophy of this question has dogged science for a very long time. Here is an answer.

Consider a single protozoan cell. We may view it as a schematic system of separate functions. This model does not fit well with an ovum, for that cell is in a resting stage and waiting for events to start. But if you imagine a spheroidal typical cell, then in the centre lies the micronucleus (we discussed this in the case of Loxophyllum), the small nucleus that contains the essential DNA. Around it lies the meganucleus which regulates what the micronucleus does to translate its actions into the propensities that give rise to the phenomena of a complicated and mature cell.

Spread around this core we would have:

So - how can we relate these properties of a single cell to a man standing here and presenting a lecture? The way it works, according to this model, is that in many-celled organisms, the specific functions within a single cell are delegated out. Let us consider the systems of motility. The motile proclivities of the single cell are translated into the specialised functions of the striated muscle cells. That is what a muscle cell does above all, and it retains only a limited ability to carry out any other functions. Nervous tissue - brain cells, neurons - have developed that 'neuronic protein' until the cells have become almost entirely devoted to carrying out the transmission, analysis, and - I would say - the processing of information on a vast scale that goes on within each cell. Similarly, the transport of solutes within the single cell is the function now specialised in the blood system. In other words, the relationship between the ovum and the adult which has puzzled biologists for centuries, ever since a description of the ovum was first published by de Graaf in 1672, can be explained if we assume, not that the cell in some way forms a community that becomes a person, but that this person embodies the behavioural manifestation of the separate cells of which we are all made.

And this brings me to the final thought which I wish to leave with you all today.

I conclude that the eternal warring within human society can only be explained when we stop to consider what goes on between the cellular components of our own bodies. The maintenance of our health depends upon the immune system. From the simplest forms of life upwards, single cells have the innate ability to recognise self and non-self. Non-self is always rejected. If you suffer a splinter in your hand, then white cells will surround it and in time it will go away. But if you experience, not a splinter but a kidney graft, the whole of your body's immune response - all of the cells in your body that could reject it - will turn on that alien kidney, and destroy it. The recognition of self and non-self is one of the most fundamental propensities of single cells, and I believe that it is manifested in the way we interact.


A parallel phenomenon may even exist in the world of higher plants. It may be that the complicated sculpturing on the surface of the pollen-grains of plants - which enables us to recognise the identity of the pollen under the microscope - is a coding signal to the host pistil. Few people seem curious to know why pollen-grains are sculptured at all. The reason they feature this sculpturing, I now conclude, is so that the morphology of the pollen grain is recognised when it lands upon the plant that it is meant to fertilize. Perhaps it has to 'fit' in some way, like the diagrams of the antibody/antigenic templates that fit together like a key in a lock.


It is now postulated that, since the recognition of self and non-self and the whole-hearted extirpation of non-self is so fundamental at the cellular level, this response resonates in the behaviour of the macroscopic organisms which are in turn composed of such cells. It follows that this could explain exactly why groups of humans feel compelled to attack each other. I am not here concerned with the simple notion of entities that are construed as being either within a set, or as non-set; that merely accounts for conventional selection. The view I here advance is subtler by far. My concept is rooted in selection against, rather than selection for, and has the clear implication that smaller distinctions may cause the greater response.

As a corollary to this, let it be said that the most vicious reaction against non-self in the human tissue graft is against a somewhat similar non-self. Put in plastic or grafting metal and the body doesn't react as violently: but put in something that is genetically similar, but a little different, and the body instantly attacks it. How interesting it is, then, that according to my model we can see that the most anguished and appalling human strife takes place between very similar groups of persons. In Lebanon it was not so much the Left against the Right, as the Shi'ite against the Sunni: both Moslem. In Northern Ireland you have Catholics against Protestants: both Christian. And at the moment in Bosnia and in Croatia you have Yugoslav against Yugoslav. The prime motivation is not territorial aggrandisement so much as the instinctual recognition of non-self, and its rejection as non-self. In recent years, in human medicine, much attention has been focussed on the study of auto-immune diseases, when the cells within the body start to attack other cells with whom they ought, in fact, to co-exist. There are many sadly recalcitrant diseases which come into this category. Attention is being paid to these syndromes of self-destruction because of the need to control the rejection of non-self in transplant patients, and to solve the tragic burden of auto-immune diseases.

Let me leave you with the proposition that we may see a close analogy between the way that cells interact antagonistically, and the way in which the bodies of cells that grace this earth also do so. Dogs fight much more violently together than a dog will fight with a member of another species, indeed a dog fight is the most violent interaction in which you would find your pet engaged. Dogs kill sheep, yes; but dogs fight because other dogs are very similar, yet slightly different. I believe that, even at this elementary level, slight differences can be seen as exerting the greatest effect when we consider how slight non-self distinctions are mirrored by the microbial world. Perhaps the conflict which we saw for many years in Lebanon, the fighting we are seeing currently in Northern Ireland, and the warring we have recently begun to see in Yugoslavia, are symptoms of something we should now recognise as the most pressing problem of all - as an auto-immune disease of society. In the ways of our single cells, we may perceive ourselves. The culture of microorganisms can yet reveal new aspects of the cultures of mankind.

Question: As a teacher I see differences in the way the two genders behave, and I wonder how these match in with what you say about cells. The girls play amongst themselves, exchanging their secrets, whilst the boys at playtime dart about, full of the joy at being released. Now, is this the male sperm dashing about? And is that the reason for wars - is it the male's fault?

BJF: It is certainly the male that is a fault in one simplistic sense. Physical aggression is arguably the greatest single human problem we face on this level, and a proclivity for aggression is coded for by testosterone. Although the substance is present in women - and present in some women in much larger amounts than in others - this is the male hormone, and is always present in men - in some cases in much smaller amounts than they would care to admit. Over the last couple of decades we have faced a great deal of discussion over the notion that the social problems that beset us are the problems of males. As men are quick to point out, the likelihood of a man experiencing violence on the streets is twice as great as the chances of the attack being on a woman, though that glosses over the fact that the violence is almost always meted out by men.

But saying that men may be aggressive, over-weening, awkward, unkind, violent and cruel - all of which at some time may be true - rather skates around the deviousness that is the counterpart of these traits in the female psychology. Although men indulge in the greatest physical cruelty in the world, women, without a shadow of a doubt (and I know that every woman in this hall will agree with me) are much worse at psychological invective. About a third of you here are women. Is there any woman at all who doesn't agree with that? None at all? If men go round striking each other in the face, and striking women too; it is also true that women can strike at men - but in the heart. I rarely hear a woman complain bitterly about the psychological problems she has from a male boss, compared with a female boss. Women may be just as violent - psychologically - to men, as men may be, physically, to the women.

But as for the dashing about and whether it relates to the sperm ... let me speculate wildly for one moment. It might be that we do embody mechanisms used for self-awareness of single cells. There could be a resonance between the way in which the sperm enters the ovum during fertilization, and the entering of the woman by her male lover. There is a classical psychological picture test which shows a dog wagging a black and tapering Mickey Mouse tail which is threatened by amputation with an axe poised above it. The image is said to be threatening, and men are said to recoil from the image instinctively. It is concluded that this is castration fear. It may be nothing of the sort. It is only a picture of a dog about to have its tail chopped off ... but the tail is long and thin. It is just like the tail of a sperm. Could that be the echo in the mind?

I will cite another curious and intriguing example. I was looking at a medieval manuscript hanging on the wall of a friend who lives in Elgin, Illinois, and I was drawn to study the decoration around the edges of the text. The pictures were cellular. They look like tissues, at the cell's-eye view. Here was an image that seems drawn from an awareness of what a living cell is like, yet which was made several centuries too soon to have derived from a microscopic study. Are there resonances here, too? It seems incredible, but there is food for thought in the speculation. Memories of pre-foetal existence are claimed by some people, and for all its improbability there may be a sliver of sense in all this.

Question: I would like to draw attention to the fact that India, Israel and Britain, have all had female Prime Ministers. Can you comment on that?

BJF: It is a fine question, and let us savour it for a moment. It is often asked why there are so few women in Parliament. I believe this is because Parliament has a club-like atmosphere which was created by male traditions and which appeals more to the men. I do not personally think that endless debate, scoring points off each other, waxing forth in public and so forth, is the kind of activity that instinctually appeals to women.

So, does that mean that men should rule us all? No, it does not. There are legion television programs, books and movies where the matriarch rules (indeed Sylvester Stallone recently released a new one). The most violent crook will quaver when Mother comes on the scene. In one film of recent vintage there is the line: "Dads are for fun; Moms mean business." If you look back at our history, you will find some extremely interesting examples of the fact that many of our the greatest leaders have been female: Margaret Thatcher, Queen Victoria, the two Queens Elizabeth. In other nations you would find Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto. The woman leader often has a dominant, superior, single-minded bossiness. Men are not usually dubbed "bossy-boots" in school, but it is a common nick-name for little girls.

Indeed this view leads me to a private opinion on the solution to the problems that currently beset our Royal Family. Prince Charles has a somewhat retiring disposition, and has spent much time trumpeting what he feels is a new way to think (but which is actually a well-trodden path that some of us have opened up for more than twenty years). I believe that Charles should step aside, so that the succession should go to the Princess Royal, Princess Anne. She has such an unassailable, aloof, detached air about her, an attitude of unchallengable authority which the Queen alone possesses in all the family. She alone could carry on the ambience of charismatic wisdom and remote superiority which her mother has embodied. The Queen is a woman of unchallengable experience and peerless clarity of insight dressed with a layer of untouchable detachment. Charles should become a man of leisure and a spokesman for the tried and tested ideas of the new world folk whilst allowing his sister to take over where the Queen leaves off.

Question: Do you not think that the failure of many peoples to go to war is simply because they are separated by distance? Like Eskimos and the bush-men, for instance? Might not American Indians and Australian Aborigines go to war if only they could meet each other?

BJF: That view can be discounted. Take an area like Mediterranean Morocco. There you find Jew and Christian, Maronite and Arab, Tuareg and Bedouin ... the whole community are all living together in a wonderful tapestry of cultures. But they live in their own way, and they respect the cultural differences between each other. Nations like Mauritius are composed of different cultures that are accepted for what they are, and which harmonise in daily life. I believe that our only way to progress in the future is to abandon the dogma that everyone under the skin is the same. That is dangerous, and impracticable. Blacks really are very different to whites. Women really are very different to men. The Welsh are culturally quite disparate from the English. The Germans really are teutonically inclined to obedience to mass rule. The French really are somewhat arrogant and self-seeking. The Spanish are really rather hedonistic and disinclined to effort. The Italians are amorous to the point of lechery, and the Americans really are boastful, and insular, and narrow-minded ...

Just as we English are, without doubt, the most hypocritical race I have ever met in the whole of my travels. I am not merely noting the problems with the others - I am just as glad to celebrate the adverse aspects of our own culture. In countries where the differences between cultures are noted, their benefits valued, and respected, and where people know that they are distinct, then the problems begin to go away. The problems arise in nations where you have different cultural groups - but nobody will admit it. There people are all forced in to the same mould. That is why we have had difficulties in Lebanon, Yugoslavia and the rest; this is where people are not allowed to celebrate their own cultural distinctness. The protozoa and the single white cells in our bodies have all a behavioural patterns which they have bequeathed to us, as the fruiting bodies that give rise to them. They recognise non-self and seek to extirpate it.

Let us look at the lyrics from popular music and the propagandizing effect they have on society. Some years ago the band Blue Mink, in their recording of "Melting Pot", were extolling the inevitability of 'coffee-coloured people by the score'. We had that awful number by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson (both singers eight thousand miles apart, for they never met when the tracks were laid down) emphasising that, beneath the covering of ebony and ivory, we were all exactly the same. The sceptic might ask why, if that is the case, anyone in rock music would spend so vast a fortune on trying to look like another race entirely.

At the end of the line, we are not all culturally coffee-coloured. There are detectable cultural differences between closely-separated regions - between north and south of the Thames; between Derby and Nottingham; between Minneapolis and St Paul; between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Thus, when you see the greatest outbreak of domestic soccer violence, it is typified by the friction between supporters of two teams from the same town - Celtic versus Rangers, for example. Let us recognise our own cultures, and understand that there are things at which one race is far better than another. The aborigines in the outback of Australia have tried to show me things which I realise we, in the west, have long since lost. Their way of life can teach so much about that sense of vital awareness we will need to survive.

Racism is a terrible scourge, and we need to educate people to its realities. In distinguishing one race from another we must never make the age-old mistake of believing that one race (our race, as a rule) is superior to any other. The races of mankind are not identical, though they are equivalent. Celebrating the differences must never mean inculcating a sense of superiority, for therein lies the seed of civil war.

Question: I was listening to what you were saying, and I wonder whether the events of the Lebanon fit your theory. For a long while everyone got on very well - the Christians and the Muslims and so on - until they offered friendship to the Palestinians and at that time something broke. They seemed to be acting out of generosity, and then suddenly when the Palestinians were offered refuge it sparked off the trouble with the Muslims.

BJF: That's right. It is almost as though disparate groups were forced into a homogeneous system. Remember that the influence of Syria was very important at that time in Lebanon, too. It is interesting that in these nations where we have seen the greatest strife it is so often between closely allied groups. The Sunni and Shi'ite are both Muslims, just as the Maronites themselves are right-wing Christians. It is often tempting to compare, say, Lebanon as it is with Morocco as it is now. And even more interesting would be the temporal analysis - the comparison of Lebanon now, with Lebanon then. Same people; less strife.

Question: I want to raise the point you made that war is not caused by territorial aggrandisement. I think it is very difficult to think of a war that wasn't caused by the desire for territory. How do you respond to that?

BJF: You can always find a smattering of wars which do contain an element of territorial aggrandisement, but the internecine wars and the most bloody conflicts do not fit the model. At the moment in Yugoslavia you have people wanting to remain in the country, but without the dominance of opposing cultural groups. This has exploded in the evil of 'ethnic cleansing'. In Northern Ireland the questions are of cultural and religious allegiance. I believe that people of the Catholic persuasion object to being governed by an occupying force. They all want to live in the same place - but do not wish to be ordered around by (as they would see it) people of an alien faith. Look at the outbreak of violence in Los Angeles after the Rodney King trials, for instance. That is a perfect case study of what I see as cross-cultural conflict. No-one wanted to invade anyone else's territory. They wanted to express their hatred of the other cultural group. It is a shameful mirror of the eugenic teaching which used to speak of pure Aryan races.

For me the greatest benefit of this microbial modelling is that, for the first time, it actually explains where this hatred comes from. And hatred is the name of the phenomenon. In the bombing of the Sarajevo cemetery, nobody wanted to occupy the land but simply to hit so cruelly at these people who are different. The extraordinary thing is that, if you had some unbiased observer from another world, they would go home after a period in Northern Ireland and report that both sides of the conflict believe in the same religion. On further questioning, they would insist that you could hardly find a single difference - except that one group owe their allegiance to a cleric in Rome, and the others to someone in Canterbury. The religious observances were so similar, the rituals so close, that it would seem impossible that so slight a change could make any difference at all.

In Lebanon it was the same. In the Lebanese civil war there was no territorial aggrandisement. Now that the fighting has stopped, everyone is living in the same place as before. It is just that they are now - once more - allowed to co-exist within their cultural groups. The members of the different cultural groups all go to trade with the groups which are known to excel at the different products they all wish to buy, in different areas of Beirut. Yet only a year ago, if you attempted to cross the 'green line', you would be dead: not because you wanted to occupy anyone's territory, but because you belonged to a different cultural group, which was being foisted upon an unwilling people.

Question: Going back to the question of the protozoa getting together in a group: have there got to be a certain number of them at one time? I am thinking of locust behaviour. Locust behaviour changes when the population size reaches a critical density.

BJF: No work has been done on protozoa in the wild. With locusts it is quite easy - you look out of the window and say, "Look, locusts!" but with single-celled organisms living in leaf-mould it is impossible to easily tell which strain is which. Under the microscope they look much like each other, and it would take diligent testing to tell one strain from another. But because of the resonances I see between the way single-celled organisms act, and the way in which the multi-celled organisms which they comprise also behave, I am inclined to argue the case backwards. I therefore assume that matters might well change when cell division has given rise to a population of a certain density. It may be that single cells normally do go around sending out their marker signals, but they dissipate when the population is too spread out to respond. Then, when the population has grown, one signal sent out by a cell does bring about response in enough of the other amoebae. The other Dictyostelium cells are now present in such numbers that now there is a synergy between the cells, and they do begin to clump together. Perhaps we can argue backwards in this way to offer explanations for other behavioural traits. For example, the changes you cite do not only effect Locusta migratoria, for it is a common concomitant of other crowded communities of species large and small.

Question: Can we ask you to use this model to analyse the future for Europe?

BJF: Europe, as a United or Federal State, is a non-starter. In my view the great debate over Maastricht is a charade. Britain has tried to wrest control of the system from domination by the bureaucrats in Brussels, but there is a much simpler answer that could bring Europe together. We need no new layers of bureaucratic control at all. Instead, we could bring the nations closer by abolishing much of those that already exist. Customs and Excise could go, and so too could immigration between the European nations. In that way we have the single community at a stroke, without new layers of control, and without forcing homogeneity upon disparate peoples. Instead, we are trying to reduce control by increasing bureaucracy. It is like the absurdity of dieting, where people - instead of merely eating less food - go out and buy more food for their diet.

The great buzz-word around Europe for fourteen months, though it has only recently turned up in the newspapers, is subsidiarity. It typifies the thinking of the culture in Brussels, which I have seen at work first hand. I have served as President of a European organisation based in Brussels, and indeed have done work with the Commission. For me, the thing that marks out the Commission is that they have a great culture of their own. It is, to be unkind about it, the culture of the inward-looking, narrow-minded, gin-and-tonic-quaffing bureaucrats. Wherever they congregate they always attract others like them. And they do not actually realise - indeed, perhaps even Mensa does not fully realise - the cultural diversity that you find in Europe. We believe that - in Spain - the people speak Spanish. Not true: they speak Castilian, Catalan, or Basque, and there are divisional sub-languages within these. You believe that in Germany everybody speaks German. Not so. In the Saar there is a language, a little like the Luxembourgois spoken to the North; there are even the Wendish people whose tongue is unrelated to German. The language of Provence is hard to understand if you are up in Paris. All across Europe there are countries-within-countries.

The whole basis on which the Commission has operated is an unquantifiable, unutterable, undeniable farce. It is a myth like the new clothes of the Emperor. When the Commission began to flex its muscles, five or six years ago, it set out to "uniformicate" Europe. I am not joking, for this is the truth and not a piece of satire; but they actually had proposals for Euro-jam, and the Euro-sausage. There were going to be specific amounts of ingredients, defined by law. Now, the sausages we eat in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire contain sage. You don't expect to buy them anywhere else in Britain. The sausages they eat in Bavaria are quite distinct from those they enjoy up in Frankfurt. Those people in Brussels were assuming that a sausage is just a sausage because that is all those faceless bureaucrats know. They have more recently come out with the order that Stilton cheese may maintain its name, because it is associated with the little village of Stilton. But Cheddar is to be banned as a name for cheese, because it is too well-known and international to be truly associated with the Somerset village of Cheddar! Yorkshire Pudding can be made in any country whatever, and indeed is often more often made in areas other than Yorkshire; whereas champagne is a name you would be sued for using to describe a wine produced anywhere at all outside the narrow confines of that specified region of France.

It is a bureaucratic, dictatorial nightmare, run by self-serving politicos who love their Mercedes and adore the unlimited telephone calls, who are never happier than when they are sitting around whittering to each other about other people's affairs. Subsidiarity was brought in over the last couple of years to engender the notion that some decisions might be taken by cultural units within Europe. It ignores the extent to which people have different beliefs (and I will come to an example of that in a moment). But the term shows what a confidence trick subsidiarity truly is. The notion of being a subsidiary implies that you are under the control of something bigger. In other words, it is the Commission which is allowing you your differences. It should be the other way round. We should be insisting that we are already different, and that a much reduced Brussels executive should concern itself by solving some of the real problems we face. If it means doing away with passports, and doing away with monetary restrictions and trading control, then so be it. These are the inventions of bureaucracies. There is no reason why you shouldn't travel around the world if you want to. Far better is the Norwegian concept of Alle Mans Recht: every human's right to walk around nature as much as you want and as far as you wish. I believe it even extends to private gardens, as long as you cause no damage. Compare that with the norm in England or America - there you would be challenged by the farmer if you step off the designated pathway. Those are examples of the cultural differences between Norway and Britain. And these behavioural markers set out the way we live.


Let me give a specific example of a behavioural irritant. I present to you three dining tables. One is in Boston, Massachusetts. The next is in Cambridge, England. And the third is in Uppsala, Sweden. In Cambridge, England, if you laid a formal dinner table and you stood upon it cans of beer, people would think that was extremely infra dig. Beer should be poured into a good crystal goblet, or - even better - a fine pewter tankard, to be quaffed in a civilised fashion. If a carton of milk were standing on that table, it would also be considered totally inadmissible. Milk is poured into a bone china jug, and then dispensed properly (before the tea, but after the coffee, in the traditional manner).

Now let us move over to Boston. In that city, if you pour out the beer into a tankard or a glass you mark yourself as wimpish and beyond the pale. Everybody in America drinks beer straight from the can. It is the macho way to do it. Admittedly, the people I visit in America tend to cut down on the habit after I point out to them the incidence of dogs pissing onto grocery cans standing there in the store, and the crusted effluvium that accumulates from people coughing as they pass. After that revelation they do tend to revert to pouring the beer into a glass. And, what's more, they start wiping the can first, before they transfer the contents. But - just try putting a carton of milk on the table in Boston, and that would be disapproved of... "This is a formal dinner party! Take that carton of milk away and pour it into a pitcher!"

Now we fly across the world to Uppsala, Sweden. The Swedes, like the other Scandinavian peoples, delight in consuming the many forms of milks and fermented products that have developed over the centuries. One of them is the string-milk, in which colonies of Streptococcus have grown. I am sorry I haven't a slide to show you, but these organisms grow in very long chains. The milk comes from the carton and looks, forgive me, like phlegm; white milky phlegm, but phlegm none the less. There are all sorts of other glutinous yoghourt milk products, and so in Sweden you would always find the milk carton. It is not just put on the table, but reverentially laid there in a place of honour. But in Sweden it is impolite to drink beer from cans! It is considered a heathen and insanitary habit. How interesting it is that the behavioural norm in Britain would be to have no cans nor cartons on the table at all; in Sweden they would say that there is nothing wrong with milk from a carton, as it is thoroughly natural - but get rid of the can. Yet in Boston you would be told that a can of beer is the most civilised thing in the world, but you should not see a milk carton on a formally laid table.

These behavioural nuances are indicators of conventional behaviour. Had you come to breakfast this morning and found milk on the tables in hall, standing there in lines of cartons, or in bottles on newspapers, you would be greatly offended at the signs of slipping standards. That would not be the case across the North Sea, in Sweden.

Question: You have portrayed the male as aggressive, persistent, and the female as acquiescent and ...

BJF: I do not think acquiescent would describe my view, but continue.

Question: Well, much of this aggression comes out particularly against wives. There used to be a thing against hitting women, but now wife battering is much more common than it was. Or at least, that is how it seems in the reports. And it doesn't have to be physical, it can be mental or verbal abuse too. Is this because men and women detect differences and hate each other?

BJF: I remember one occasion sitting in the control gallery of a TV program that was devoted to the (then) new problem of battered women. Three or four of these women were in such appalling situations that one wanted to take them home, offer them a shower, a glass of champagne, a good meal and the chance to relax whilst you went round to their husbands with the authorities and taught them a lesson. That is what you might expect as a reaction. But that was not true of them all. Two or three, the instant they appeared on the monitors, were instantly very annoying - as people. One realised from the show, and in talking to them afterwards. that they had been dogged by problems ever since they were in school. Certain people are victims, irrespective of whether they are women. Certain people attract violence. Certain people inspire distaste. To tolerate people in whom we recognise those traits is the mark of civilised and caring human.

This should not turn attention from the fact that there is wife-battering in modern society, and it is prevalent at a level that is far higher than one could ever understand. But so too is husband battering. The difference is that the poor women have their faces battered by the menfolk, whilst the men have their hearts battered by the women. It is easier to spot a battered face than a broken mind, but there is battering on both sides. A lot of men batter their wives because the men are bullies and should be taken away. Some of the women who are attacked are nature's victims and may be mentally abused by women as often as by men because they signal that they are victims. And yes, there may be some subtle mechanism of rejection at work which a new era of tolerance could help us overcome.

In conclusion, let me say that there are many lessons to learn, not only from the mirroring of macroscopic in microscopic life. We must also realise that matters are much more complex than we have in the past been led to believe. Note that when I speak of the points like the one raised earlier, of territorial aggrandisement and warfare, I am not saying such an explanation is not important. What I am saying is that we have in the past been led to believe that it explains everything. I claim is that we cannot explain away such complex phenomena with such simplistic explanations.

The truth is that we live through the expression of complex interwoven webs of effect. At the very time when we believe that science has discovered everything worth discovering, I believe that we are just at the dawn of new science, of real science: science that has descended from the realms of natural philosophy, and the kind of science that I try privately to practice. I believe that science in the decades ahead is going to be far more enlightening and enlivening than anything we saw from the years of the renaissance at its height. It may usefully remind us of the nature of human civilisation and of the roots of the humility with which me must look at our fellows, and the self-criticism we might find in our hearts.

Thank you very much indeed.

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